A New Year's Eve with 'Die Fledermaus'
GIUSEPPE PENNISI reports from Rome
This year my wife and I spent New Year's Eve at the Teatro dell'Opera to listen to and to see a new production of Die Fledermaus ('The Bat') by Johann Strauss Jr. Even though it is not a traditional feature as in Vienna and in Austrian and German culture, two different versions are competing in the Italian capital this holiday season. One is produced by the Teatro dell'Opera and is on stage from 31 January 2016 until 8 January 2017; on 15 January this production will debut in Paris at the Théâtre des Champs Elysées. The other, by the National Academy of Santa Cecilia will be performed from 5 to 7 January 2017. Neither is the original Die Fledermaus on stage in Vienna and in the rest of the Austro-Germanic area, nor the Die Fledermaus-Rosalinde Version often performed in the US and the UK.
The Teatro dell'Opera Die Fledermaus is a ballet version choreographed by Roland Petit in the late seventies essentially for his wife, Zizi Jeanmaire, and seen all over the world. The National Academy of Santa Cecilia will present a concert version, with the dialogue entrusted to an Italian actor as a narrator; also the concert will focus on the second act (the party at the extravagant Prince Orlofsky's mansion) interpolated with other music by Johann Strauss Jr and his contemporaries to provide a New Year's concert under the general title of A Night in Vienna. Now I am reporting on the ballet; I will also review the concert, of course, after I have heard it on 5 January.
Just as the wit and the originality of Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halevy's plays had provided Offenbach with his most enduring successes, so also the same writers inspired Johann Strauss to a vitality that he achieved in none of his other operettas. The resulting work has, more than any other operetta, transcended its origins to become an acknowledged cornerstone of the operatic repertory such that it has been led by very important conductors (eg Kleiber, Previn, Böhm and Karajan). In Italy, Die Fledermaus is not as well known as in the Austro-German world, France or the US. This is only the fifth time that it has been staged at the Teatro del'Opera. Normally, it is performed by touring operetta companies — on a small budget — or at the annual operetta festival in Trieste. Thus, it is often played by small orchestras and the conductors are not first rate.
In the Teatro dell'Opera, the orchestra is very fine and experienced; it has just completed a series of performances of Wagner's Tristan und Isolde (see 'Abstract and Symbolic', 1 December 2016). Under David Garforth's baton, the orchestra delivered a very good reading of the score, slightly revised to meet the needs of a ballet version. The sound was round and bright as well as quite sparkling.
As indicated, the plot was somewhat different from the original, but the basic theme did not change: how can a wife conquer again a husband who is accustomed to fly away at night, like a bat, in search of other women. The screenplay is quite amusing, even though it is molded with nostalgia for a now bygone time.
This version of Die Fledermaus is, above all, ballet. The five protagonists (Maria Yakovleva, Friedemann Vogel, Antonello Mastrangelo, Annalisa Cianci and Alessandro Rende) are top class and the corps de ballet (in a large number of different roles) showed that the company is now among the finest in Europe.
After the performance and ten minutes of accolades, there were sparkling wine and Christmas/New Year cakes for both performers and audience.